WASHINGTON -- The exhaust fumes from gasoline vehicles contribute more to the production of a specific type of air pollution-secondary organic aerosols (SOA)-than those from diesel vehicles, according to a new study by scientists from the Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences (CIRES), NOAA's Earth System Research Laboratory (ESRL) and other colleagues.
"The surprising result we found was that it wasn't diesel engines that were contributing the most to the organic aerosols in LA," said CIRES research scientist Roya Bahreini, who led the study and also works at NOAA's ESRL. "This was contrary to what the scientific community expected."
SOAs are tiny particles that are formed in air and make up typically 40 percent to 60 percent of the aerosol mass in urban environments. This is important because fine-particle pollution can cause human health effects, such as heart or respiratory problems.
Due to the harmful nature of these particles and the fact that they can also impact the climate and can reduce visibility, scientists want to understand how they form, Bahreini said. Researchers had already established that SOAs could be formed from gases released by gasoline engines, diesel engines, and natural sources-biogenic agents from plants and trees-but they had not determined which of these sources were the most important, she said. "We needed to do the study in a location where we could separate the contribution from vehicles from that of natural emissions from vegetation," Bahreini said.
Los Angeles proved to be an ideal location. Flanked by an ocean on one side and by
mountains to the north and the east, it is, in terms of air circulation, relatively isolated,
Bahreini said. At this location, the scientists made three weekday and three weekend flights
with the NOAA P3 research aircraft, which hosted an arsenal of instruments designed to
measure different aspects of
|Contact: Kate Ramsayer|
American Geophysical Union